The town of Aparecida do Norte lies in the province of Sao Paolo in Brazil. It is known as the most important Marian shrine in the country, the point onto which pilgrims from all over the country converge. This is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil.
Why should the Immaculate Conception be given the name of Our Lady “Aparecida”?
It all began in the 18th century, when some fishermen, used to casting their nets into the River Paraiba near Sao Paolo, hauled up a headless statue with their catch. When they re-cast their nets, they brought up the head of the statue: it then appeared to be a Black Virgin. Legend has it that when the fishermen recovered the body, then the head, the slender figure of the Aparecida Virgin became so heavy that they couldn’t budge it.
Since then, in the Brazilian religious tradition, the Aparecida Virgin, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, is the Holy Mother, patron Saint of mothers-to-be and the new-born, rivers and the sea, gold, honey and beauty.
Over the years, worship of the Immaculate “Aparecida” Virgin increased and many mercies have been obtained. In 1737, the curate at Guaratingueta had a chapel erected for worshippers.
A huge Basilica for the Patron Saint of Brazil
In 1834 work on a larger church was begun; this became the “old Basilica” when work on the huge “new Basilica” was started in 1955. In 1884, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Aparecida was crowned by the archbishop of Sao Paolo, in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio, at the decree of the Vatican. On July 16th 1930, the nation again paid homage to Our Lady of Aparecida when she was solemnly proclaimed the Patron Saint of Brazil in the presence of all of the country’s religious and civic dignitaries. On that day, Cardinal Leme, archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, dedicated Brazil to the Holy Virgin of Aparecida.
Up until the 1950s, Aparecida remained an unassuming village with a small community of Redemptionists. They arrived from the Province of Munich in Germany and took on the responsibility for the shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, making it the first Redemptionist parish in Latin America. In the middle of the 20th century, the present huge new Basilica was built.
It is the second most visited Marian shrine in the world!
And Our Lady of Aparecida is huge indeed, with its 100 metre high tower, its 70 meter dome, its nave, 173 meters long and 168 meters wide in the shape of a Greek Cross, covering a surface area of around 18,000 m². It can hold up to 45,000 worshippers! In size, Our Lady of Aparecida is the second largest Basilica in the world, after St. Peter’s in Rome. John Paul II gave it the name of “Minor Basilica” in 1980. As the Patron Saint of Brazil, one of the functions of Our Lady of Aparecida is as a site of pilgrimage for laborers, which takes place each year on Brazil’s national holiday, September 7th.